Sunday, June 30, 2013

He Taught Me

One of my favorite moments as a writer came after this article was published while I lived in Beijing. I wrote it about my son's big gruff PE teacher, and another teacher told me that "you made him cry." My proudest writing moment. Seriously. Go read it; I'll wait.

If you know me, you know I have a great deal of respect for teachers. Good teachers, that is. Not everyone who teaches ought to be teaching. But the good ones - and I've interacted with many - are priceless.

I try, when I'm lucky enough to have a great teacher for one of my kids, to write a letter thanking them at the end of the year, and I copy the principal. I figure, I'm not good at remembering to buy gifts, but I can write, so maybe that's gift enough?

One teacher I never thanked, though.

He taught me math in the eighth grade (Eighth? Or maybe ninth?), and he scared the hell out of me. He was not one of those teachers who tried to be your friend. He had little patience for fools. He expected a lot from us, and I was terrible at math. Truly awful. I thought so, anyway. But somehow, he assumed I could learn what he was teaching - no, he demanded it - and I found that when I listened to his explanations, they made sense somehow. I don't quite know if he did it, or if I did it, but I learned math somehow that year.

More than that, I learned that I was actually pretty smart. Before that, I don't think I knew how smart I was. I went to a small private school filled with supersmart kids. I probably floated somewhere in the upper half, but I wasn't exactly knocking people down with my brains. Once I figured out how to get through his class, though, it was smooth sailing from there on out. I broke the code that year, with his help, and I still don't know how it happened. I just know that the moment he walked into that classroom and started smacking papers down on our desks, my whole world changed.

I don't think he taught any other classes of mine. In fact, I seem to recall that he left the school after that year and didn't come back to teach there again until after I had already gone off to college. (You'd think I'd remember, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. I was pretty busy being a teenager, after all.) I did write him a letter that next year, after he'd gone, but honestly, I can't remember why I wrote to him or what I said. I think I was complaining about the new crop of teachers, or my lack of friends, or something else equally teen-angsty. And he wrote back - but if I was looking for sympathy, I was looking in the wrong place. He wrote no sympathetic words. Rather, he told me to stop complaining, to stop blaming other people and to get out there and make something of the opportunities I'd been given. You know: the things parents always want to tell their kids, but their kids never listen.

Well, he wasn't a parent, so I did listen. I kept that letter for many, many years, even though it pissed me off every time I read it, because he all but called me a whiny baby.

I went back after graduation, for my 10-year reunion, and he was there, teaching again at the school and married now, to my favorite high school English teacher. I talked to him, briefly, but it seemed he barely remembered me. It was such an odd sensation, meeting up with him as an adult, and I wanted to tell him what an impact he'd had on me, and what a difference he'd made in my life, on both an intellectual and a personal level. But I was somehow struck dumb, a kid again, and so I said nothing.

He died last week, Mr. Herroon did, and the news sent me spinning back into long-lost memories of my youth. I remember that feeling of fear when he threw a paper down on my desk, that fear that I wouldn't be able to find the answers to the questions in front of me. I remember that feeling of pride when I did something right and he pointed it out. Most of all, I remember that he was the first person who told me I was smart enough to figure things out on my own if only I'd trust myself. And so I did.

It's strange. I still don't like math. I'm still not particularly good at it. I did my best to avoid math classes in college - not a difficult feat for a Russian major. Yet I remember that one math class, and that one math teacher, perhaps more than any other. He set me down on a path and pointed in the direction I was supposed to go. Off I went, without looking back. I'm here today, in so many ways, because of that one teacher. In his own hard-edged way, he cared about us, about me, and somehow that allowed me to shine in ways that still surprise me today.

Thank you, Mr. Herroon. I wish I'd told you when I had the chance.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

First Good Cry

Today marks Day Seven.

Today also goes down in history as the first time I cried.

It all started innocently enough. I was sitting at the breakfast table, reading a book. (Okay, okay: I was probably on Facebook. But for the sake of my intellectual reputation, can all we agree that I was reading a book? Or at least the New York Times book review section? Thanks.)

Anyway. I was reading my book when Ainsley walked in the kitchen. She had recently applied makeup from her new toy makeup kit, and the least offensive way I can think to describe the look is "blue raccoon hooker chic." She had blue shadow caked on her lids, under her eyes, across the bridge of her nose. And the lipstick! Bright pink, smeared carelessly across the lower half of her face.

She stood in front of me. "You know something, momma?" she asked pensively, examining her own small fingernails.

"What, baby?" I replied, trying to ignore the blue streaks. And the pink streaks. God. The pink.

She stood for another beat before her whole face crumpled and she started sobbing.

"I miss daddy," she bawled and threw her arms around me, blue-pink face buried in my neck. "I just want him to come home."

I pulled her onto my lap and we rocked together for awhile, arms around each other. I whispered all of the not-helpful things into her ear, about how her daddy loves her more than anything, and he thinks about her all day long, and he'll come back as soon as he can, and on and on. She listened for awhile, sobs becoming sniffles, and finally asked, in a tiny voice, "but what if he forgets me?"

I kept it together. I did! We talked, arms still around one other, until I finally convinced her that she should draw a picture for daddy so he would know she remembers him, too. She skipped off to get paper and crayons, happy again, albeit with horrid teary blue streaks across her cheeks and ears.

While she was drawing, I got in the shower, turned on the water, and did my own bit of sobbing. For my poor sad Ainsley, who worries her dad will forget her. For the other kids, who are dealing with it in their own ways. For my husband, who misses us terribly already. And of course, for me, because now I have to explain the unexplainable to a 5-year-old.

No, sweetie. Your daddy will never forget you. Not a chance.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Me? Yeah, I'm totally fine. Why do you ask?

At work today, one of my colleagues came in to tell me something, but then stopped mid-sentence and asked instead "are you alright?" Awhile later, another colleague said "every time I walk past your office, you're just sitting there typing, but you've got your crazy eyes on."

Hmmm. Apparently I'm more see-through than I knew? Need to work on my game face.

Funny story. When POTUS was in town, there were all sorts of countdown meetings to prepare the logistics. At the end of each meeting, we'd break into our separate groups for mini-meetings, so I'd hang with the press folks, while across the room the luggage folks would gather in one corner and the security folks in another, and so on.

I'm really bad in noisy, crowded situations like that, because I can't hear a thing, but I don't want to ask people to shout for me. So after this one countdown meeting, we broke off as a press team and the POTUS press advance team started going over the logistical details with us. I couldn't hear a word, but I knew someone would answer my questions later, so I pulled out my notepad and pen and did my best to look quietly competent for the White House staffers, nodding and scribbling and glancing from person to person as they spoke.

From across the room, I felt someone's eyes on me, and I looked up to find Mr. P laughing at me. Flat out laughing. I had no idea what was so funny: my zipper was zipped, my hair was brushed, my shoes matched...

After the meeting, I walked over and asked him why he'd been laughing at me. His response? "You just looked so utterly bored and pissed off at having to be there in that meeting." Bored and pissed off? But - I was actually aiming for quietly competent, confident and supremely interested. How could my facial expression have gone so terribly wrong without my knowledge?

I don't know. But add that to today's "crazy eyes" episode, and it's clear I need to work on my poker face.

Okay, gotta run and practice in the mirror. The Secretary of State will be visiting soon, and I don't want him asking his assistant who the crazy-eyed lady is....

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One down, 364 to go...

He left this morning.

Mr. and Mrs. P came by at 7 to take him to the airport. (They were headed that way, and it seemed like a better idea than loading the kids in the car straight from bed and forcing them to endure a tearful airport goodbye.)

Yes: there were plenty of tears. And that was just Mrs. P!

Seriously, though. Ainsley, surprisingly enough, has taken it the hardest. She climbed into our bed last night, as per usual, threw her arms around her daddy and said "I don't want you to die in Baghdad, daddy."

What the what? She's five. Let me tell you, neither of us was quite sure how to respond to that small trauma.

We all waved goodbye on the sidewalk this morning before heading back into our suddenly empty house. There were his house keys, his car keys, his phone, all on the table where he'd left them, along with the usual handful of change and a couple of scraps of paper. Like he would be coming back at any minute. I stared at those keys for awhile, just thinking my own private thoughts.

The dirty t-shirt in the laundry room. The toothbrush in the bathroom. The closet, still full of his clothes and shoes. I was torn between feeling as though it was all a dream, and he'd be coming right back - he'll need his toothbrush, after all - and feeling as though he'd just suddenly died - his toothbrush is still on the counter, but he's somewhere else somehow.

It was hard.

Luckily for us, this morning was the first morning of summer camp, so the youngest three had to rush to get ready. No time to mope. For me, there's a SecState visit just around the corner, and a colleague on TDY, so there is much work to be done and no time for wallowing in deep thoughts.

I had two back-to-back meetings in the morning that I muddled through somehow before deciding to order a bagel and coffee from the cafeteria. As I walked to pick them up, I got a text from Mrs. P - he's ok - and another from Trixie - thinking of you - and marveled at my luck in choosing friends. I paid for my food, paid for my coffee and went all the way back to my office before realizing I'd left my coffee in the cafeteria, next to the cash register.

Clearly, I am a bit out of it.

But it is done. We have started down this path after months of planning. And now that we've started, we can finish.

Our friend Mike, who is currently serving out his sentence at Embassy Baghdad, emailed a few hours ago to let me know that Bart arrived safely at the Embassy. I imagine I'll hear from Bart himself once he gets settled and Internet-ed. And I will let you all know what he has to say.

Boy needs his own blog, don't you think?

Meanwhile, I'm home tonight, having ordered takeout Indian for dinner (hey, there are some pluses to this single mom gig, right?). The girls are writing cards for their daddy, and Ainsley has asked three times already if he'll be back "tonight or tomorrow? Which, mommy?"

Sigh.

Just 364 days to go.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"I forgot to tell you..."

Bart leaves tomorrow.

It's been a stressful few weeks for the two of us: saying goodbyes (him), planning for summer (me), finishing the school year and just generally trying to get ready for the future that is now less than 24 hours away.

I'm not a secret-spiller on this blog, and don't intend to become one. (If I want my permanent record to reflect that I'm perfect in every way, well, it's my blog, right?)

I will say, however, that we haven't always been kind to one another these past few weeks. Too much stress, too much worry, too easy to take it out on your loved ones.

I guess the stress and worry shows on our faces, and this is where it has been nice to be here, in this little community of foreign service and military folks. They've all been through it, this journey we're starting, and they don't judge. Our friends have all been lovely and supportive and full of advice. I've gotten a lot of "I forgot to tell you"s this past week, as I've wandered the halls of the Embassy.

"I forgot to tell you," said the major. "when [spouse] deployed to Afghanistan for the first time, we didn't talk to each other for like a month beforehand. We were so pissed at each other all the time."

Said Trixie, who has done this a hundred times, "I forgot to tell you. You're going to hate him before he leaves. It's nature's way of helping you separate. You'll be ready to push him out the door."

And STJ: "Just wait until he comes back the first time. You'll fight about everything!"

Dear Lord. What have we gotten ourselves into?

Truth be told, there was a tad bit more bickering in the household over the last few weeks than is typical. You'd think, having been warned what was coming, we'd have been able to avoid the pitfalls, but apparently we're no special-er than the rest of you. Still- we've settled down and are both now focused on the task of getting him out the door.

Last night we had a few friends over for dinner. Mr. P set up Bart's new router so he can hook up to the Internet in Baghdad and Mrs. P brought the cupcakes and sympathetic ear. CL brought the wine, the scaryfunny Iraq stories and the playmate for Yogi. It was a nice sort of going away evening.

Today is all family. Pool, maybe. Ice cream and movie, maybe. Packing and re-packing (he has a strict 50-pound weight limit for his suitcase). Laundry and cooking and yes, probably a little bit of bickering. But we'll try to keep it to a minimum for today.

I forgot to tell you, my friends. Your support, your laughter, your hugs and snark and smiles, have meant the world to me in this lead-up phase. No turning back now, I guess. This time tomorrow, we'll each be on our separate paths.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

And the Years Fly By...

The coffee machine at the Embassy has been broken for days and so this morning I was forced to walk to Starbucks for my morning coffee before hailing a cab to work.

And yes. I am aware of just how horribly first world that problem sounds, but people, please: I have four kids and a full-time job, and ain't no way I'm going to last past eight a.m. without my coffee. So I planned ahead and left extra early to allow time to make the 10-minute walk to Starbucks.

I crossed the big main street and headed down the tiny alley, dodging teetering piles of trash torn from the bags by stray cats, rotten fruit fallen from trees and random donkey droppings. For some reason, maybe the sun reflected off the apartment building just so, or the taxi horn blared at just the right moment off in the distance, or I don't know. But for some reason I suddenly had a very real flashback to the first time I walked down this same alley, three years ago.

We hadn't been in Jordan more than a couple of days at that time. We were living in a temporary apartment - my friend Faris lives there now - and a colleague of Bart's, a friend from RSO school way back when, took us to see our new house and neighborhood. We decided to walk to Starbucks so I'd know where it was, and I still remember how freaked out I was by that trash-strewn alley. It seemed dangerous and foreign and bad-things-will-happen-to-you-here, beware. We passed through the alley back then and onto a wider residential street before reaching our destination, and I breathed a sigh of relief to be out of the alley, though truthfully the street seemed just as foreign and frightening in its own way.

Today I took that same path and thought back three years. The trash still blows in the alley. The apartment buildings all still stand amongst the same vacant lots. But there - that's the pizza place that delivers to my house. And there's the florist who sells helium balloons for birthday parties. And the little market where I buy my bread and milk. They have everything I need in that little market. Not everything I want, mind you. But if I need it, I can usually find it there.

There's the stationary store where I buy pencils and scotch tape. Right out front I once watched two men brawling and cursing and spitting until one hefted a large metal street sign over his head and chased the other down the road as I tried to hide in a doorway.

And finally there was the Starbucks, the one where I sat and studied Arabic in the mornings those first few months, and where I now sometimes run into friends when I stop in. Just yesterday I was there with Shawn, feeling right at home, chatting away as we waited for our drinks.

Feeling right at home.

This is home for us now, three years on, and I suppose that makes for a boring blog sometimes, because I'm past the stage where everything is new and different, so my blog posts aren't quite as, I don't know, exotic, as they used to be, I guess.

This is just home now. The alley is just an alley, and the trash is always gonna be there.

When we arrived in Jordan, my youngest had only just turned 2, and my eldest was about to enter the 5th grade. Now? My baby will be a rising kindergartener as of tomorrow afternoon, my eldest an 8th grader. I guess that means I've aged three years myself, though I don't like to think of it in those terms.

My husband leaves here in a few more days. It won't be home for him anymore. But I still have a year to go. And even though there are things about this place that drive me crazy, still I have to say that I'm happy to be here, home, in Amman.

My last year begins the day my husband leaves. Which is, I suppose, why I had that brutal flashback this morning. I'm about to enter the next familiar phase - the year of counting down, the year of goodbyes, the year of loving, and leaving, and starting to shut down.

It was three years ago already that we moved here, but I'm not quite ready to believe that my goodbye year is beginning next week.

It seems too soon to say goodbye.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Cousins


Thanks B & C, for making the long trek across the border to celebrate with us. Miss you all already...


Friday, June 14, 2013

Scenes From a Birthday

It's been a busy birthday weekend for my baby girl.

On Thursday night we had a little celebration at the Embassy in honor of Kyra and our friend CL, who shares his birthday with Kyra. Last year we made him endure an Ariel the Mermaid birthday cake. This year we cut him some slack and made the two of them separate cakes. (Though if you ask me, I'd tell you that he secretly dug last year's Ariel cake...).

Today we took Kyra to get her big birthday present: she got her ears pierced. Our friend Annie came with us for moral support, but as soon as they pulled out the giant earring-staple-gun, Annie fled. It was a bit traumatic for all involved, actually. But she made it through with just a few tears (Kyra, that is - not Annie) and is now the proud owner of a set of of sparkly blue stud earrings.

And we're not done yet: her actual birthday party is tomorrow.

Someone in my office asked me what her party theme was going to be, and I wondered - don't you people know me at all? The theme is - wait for it! - try to find the time to bake some cupcakes and don't forget to invite a couple of kids. Supermom I'm not when it comes to birthday parties.

The exciting news is that it appears our Jerusalem relatives will be making the trek across the Jordan River to celebrate with us - it's their daughter's birthday as well, so we'll celebrate together. And they want to say one last goodbye to Bart before he leaves for Baghdad. Two birds and all.

Enjoy the photos.




We tried - unsuccessfully - to light candles for our two cakes. Too much wind in the desert at night.

Kyra didn't seem to mind having no candles to blow out.

Uncle Sean sent shoes.

The grandparents sent a makeup kit.

Note the earrings. My baby's growing up...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Month in Pictures

Today Kyra's class performed for the parents in what has to have been the cutest concert ever, anywhere, in the history of the first grade. We took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

Tonight, when I sat down to download the pictures, I discovered approximately one bazillion other pictures on my camera. Pictures I'd forgotten taking. My life flashed before my eyes. At least, the last month of my life flashed before my eyes.

No time to blog! I've been busy at work all week, and now tonight I am baking birthday cakes and making treats for the Marines' bake sale. Tomorrow the movers come to box up Bart's Baghdad stuff, so he's running around trying to get organized - and also, for some strange reason, practicing the violin. The kids sense the pressure in the house and have decided to take advantage by going on toothbrushing strikes and demanding extra reading time and more snuggling. Clearly there is much craziness afoot in our household. But I thought I'd toss a few pictures up here while I'm thinking about it.

First off, Easter. I can't believe I didn't post any Easter photos. And I call myself a blogger. For shame. They should kick me out of the bloggers' union.

All together now: awwww.....
To be fair, we do own hairbrushes. But who has time to find them when Easter baskets await?
Still young enough to appreciate a basket full of sugar....

Next up: baseball season. Last weekend was the Amman Little League All-Stars game. Four players from each team were picked to advance to the All-Stars. Shay and his friends S, S and G all made the cut.

Each one cuter than the last...
Both teams, celebrating, at the end of the game. No one seemed to care who won or lost, which was all kinds of awesome.

And finally - today's Carnival of the Animals concert. Kyra was an elephant, as you probably could have guessed.
With her daddy.
My baby turns seven tomorrow. Seven. Amazing.

That's it for now. I have a birthday cake to frost. I made pink frosting. My girly-girl took one look and said "I wanted blue." WTH? We compromised and settled for purple. Purple-ish,anyway. Because red plus blue equals purplish and I was not about to make a fresh batch of frosting at 9 o'clock at night. It might not be the most beautiful cake ever, but it'll still taste pretty damned good.

Back soon, inshallah. Wish me luck getting through the next few crazy days.

Monday, June 10, 2013

This Place I Call Home

Today, as I was walking back to my office carrying my lunch in a take-out box because, hello? sometimes my life just sucks that way, a guy I've never seen before, some TDYer, probably, smiled at me and said "Can you believe this weather? It's perfect today. Sooo much nicer than Baghdad!"

Which struck me as funny on several levels, and so I answered, in all seriousness, "well, don't get used to it or anything. It's only like this every day until October."

It's true! Every day in the summer here is blue-sky perfect and just the right temperature. Except for last Saturday, of course, because we had a baseball pool party planned and someone in the neighboring field decided it was a beautiful day to burn an entire field full of trash. That day was not so blue-sky perfect. It was more, I don't know, dirty-brown-but-still-a-good-air-quality-in-Beijing day. Other than that, though. Blue skies. Lovely warm weather. Today's high temperature, for example, was just 80 degrees. The low was 62. In Baghdad today, by way of contrast, it was "just" 100 degrees for the high. My husband is going to be hating life in mid-July.

We're just a little over 100 miles away from Damascus, Syria, and the problems from that side of the border are spilling over into Jordan, for certain. So many refugees coming across the border, looking for safety, and the Jordanians are straining under the effort of supporting them all. Syria, Syria, Syria, is the drumbeat behind every conversation, both here at the Embassy and out on the streets. Jordanians are worried, fearful, afraid of what may come their way. And the Americans at the Embassy are all focused on the problem, trying to find the way forward along with their Jordanian counterparts.

It makes me proud of my colleagues, both local and American, to see the effort they put into the cause. A losing cause? Nobody knows. But everyone, to a person, is doing something to try to fix it.

So yes. The sky is blue. The weather is perfect. But there is an underlying current of fear, and nerves, and worry and anger, that is impossible to ignore. All of Jordan looks north toward the border, and we at the Embassy focus in that direction, too. We're enjoying the sunshine for now. And we're hoping the sky above stays cloudless and blue awhile longer.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Counting Down

Two weeks from tomorrow, my husband leaves for Baghdad.

We've been talking about it, planning for it, waiting for it, for a long time now, and I think we're both ready to get started, if only so we can get it over with.

It's been an odd transition, for both of us.

Always before, we've left post at the same time. Which meant we got annoyed by the same things, stressed about the same to-do list, worried about the same nonsense.

This time, though, he's beyond annoyed by the traffic circles and the people who can't drive through them properly, whereas I still don't let it get to me. He's trying to shut down his office and pack up his things and finish the miles-long post check out list. Me? I've got meetings scheduled from now til August - I'm trying to keep up with my current job and my kids and my household, and I'm not checking out of anything anytime soon.

He is leaving, and I am staying, and that puts us in two different mindsets, psychologically speaking. I'm not ready to say goodbye, but he's already had countless goodbye dinners and lunches and other meetings. When I attend these going away functions, people who don't know me well ask if I'm excited to leave and I have to explain that no, I'm not going anywhere. Or people get teary-eyed at the thought of him leaving, and I'm in the peculiar position of consoling them. When I met the man who is replacing him, it hit me at last that he really must be leaving, if someone else is moving into his office and doing all of the RSO-stuff in his stead.

It's an odd feeling. Moving forward, holding back, waiting.

A colleague said to him "just think, the day you arrive, you'll already have less than a year to go." I hadn't thought of it that way, but its true, and I think at this point we're both ready to start counting down the days.

Two weeks.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

All the Awards I've Never Earned

I've worked for the Department, on and off, since 1999. I've been in Consular, in CLO, in Political and in Public Diplomacy. Every cone but Econ, actually. And in that time, I've won exactly one award, way back in 2001. Okay, technically, I won another award in 2000, but that wasn't for any "real" work. Rather, it was for something specific I did within the community for which I couldn't get a real award, but for which someone high-up wanted to recognize me. That might be my favorite award ever, actually, even though it isn't really real, because damn, did I ever earn it.

Another time I was the runner-up for one of those huge departmental awards that pits everyone in a single job against one another, worldwide. Everyone in the world! And I was the first runner-up. I didn't win, but still, that was kind of awesome.

And then there was the post that hired me specifically to write a huge, federally-mandated report, the kind that hits the news every year and causes a scandal. I worked on that report every day for four months or so, and when it was finished, I forwarded it to my boss, who forwarded it to DC, where they read it, cleaned it up, and published it for all the world to see. A short while later, a cable went out from the Secretary herself, naming the top, I can't remember, 5 or 10?, reports worldwide, and calling out the authors of those reports by name. My report was one of the chosen ones! But my name didn't make the cable: they named my boss instead.

No problem, though. I wasn't upset. Because when the cable came out, my boss came around to my office, thanked me for my work, and noted that my name really should've been on that cable. And with that, I was happy. Because I knew that the people I worked with knew how hard I had worked on that report. It gave me nightmares, truly, because of some of the horrific content, and I still think about some of the people I profiled in that report. But I wrote it, and it was important, and it was true, and it was good.

Anyway, today was the annual awards ceremony at the Embassy, and I was really happy, because the two people for whom I wrote up nominations received awards. My husband got a superior honor award, and of course he'll be appalled to hear I mentioned that on my blog, so don't tell him, okay? And he was really happy because he was able to write nominations for a bunch of his deserving employees, including one who got the Employee of the Year award here at Embassy Amman.

So it's all good, really. But sometimes, you know, just sometimes, it's frustrating to be "just a spouse" and have no one notice your contributions. I was bummed today, a little. Tomorrow I'll be over it already, because when it comes down to it, why be upset over a friggin' piece of paper? If you like your job, and you like the people you work with, and you learn something new every day, well, the rest doesn't matter, does it?

But still.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ainsley's Lunchbox, Part Two

 
This much you know about me: I have four children.
 
Now, some people think I am some kind of a mothering hero for managing to keep four children alive and fed and relatively clean. Some people think this, but not my children's teachers.
 
The secret to having more than one child?
 
Lower.
 
Your.
 
Standards.
 
Seriously. Do you remember when you had that first child, and he cried, so you dropped everything and ran to the crib to console that small being? You gave him baths every afternoon, if only to fill the time. You cleaned that bellybutton wound and sterilized the pacifiers and later, maybe you pureed sweet potatoes or fresh peaches for snacks.
 
Riiiight. And then along came the second child. And the third. And the fourth! And by now you realized that kids don't need baths every afternoon, and pacifiers are going to get dropped as soon as you clean them off, so why bother? And when the dog stole a cookie from the baby, and the baby pried the dog's mouth open to retrieve the cookie, you let the baby eat said cookie and applauded her ingenuity without too much thought about how nasty the cookie probably was.
 
That, my friends, is how you raise four kids without losing your mind. 

Lower your standards.
 
The good thing about this method is that, as they grow older, the kids do learn to fend for themselves. Because if you don't climb up on that counter to get a drinking glass, and if you don't pour your own milk, you might have to wait a really, really, really long time for your mom to get around to it. And if you don't remind mom to sign your homework folder at night, it won't get done, and then you're the one who gets in trouble.
 
So I tell myself that this hands-off method of childrearing is actually A Good Thing, because I am raising resiliant, independent, creative, non-germophobe kids. Right? This isn't a parenting failure, it's a success!
 
And I can convince myself of that, in the privacy of my own house. But once the school gets involved, well, it's all over. I'm pretty sure my photo is posted in the teacher lunch room, on the "crazy parent" bulletin board. (What? You know they have a crazy parent board in there. They have to.)
 
You might recall the day I got a note from Ainsley's fabulous pre-school teacher, reminding me that the lunchbox, when sent to school, actually has to have food in it. That was not a high point in my motherhood career.
 
It got better this week, though. I packed the lunches, and Ainsley's was the usual: strawberry milk, pretzels, apple slices, a cookie and a cheese sandwich (she doesn't eat the sandwich, not ever, but it makes the teacher happy when it's in there, so I dutifully make one every morning and throw it out again every night.) I put her lunch into her sparkly pink lunchbox and left it on the counter. When the bus came, she ran out the door, lunchbox in hand, and hopped on the bus with a quick wave goodbye.
 
Fast forward to that night at dinner.
 
"Did anything exciting happen at school today, Ainsley?" I asked.
 
"Yes," she replied, "the teacher said my lunch was SO old."
 
Old? I was suddenly very confused, and just a little bit afraid.
 
It turns out, after much questioning and searching of spare lunch boxes, that what transpired was this: Ainsley picked up her lunchbox that morning and carried it out to the living room. She set it down somewhere and then, before the bus arrived, she somehow found an old lunchbox lurking somewhere under a couch or something, and took that with her instead. I found the lunchbox I'd packed that morning by the front door. God only knows what was in the lunchbox she took to school, or how old it was.  I'm pretty sure I got another sad face sticker next to my picture in the teacher lunchroom that day, though.
 
And then there's Kyra. She's become quite the independent little thing these days, which is mostly A Good Thing. Just last week, she told me all about her homework project: she was writing a little "how to" book, and she was having so much fun with it. She showed me the paper, two pieces stapled together actually, but I only saw the second page. She didn't ask for help, and I didn't offer. It all seemed normal and above board. She had written a couple of sentences under the title "How To Make A Paper Snoflak."
 
But this weekend, when I was going through her take home folder, I found the how to book. I flipped it around, and that's when I saw it: the first page.

The first page was actually a note addressed to the parents. It turns out that this little how-to project was one of those dreaded "work with your kid" projects. The parent (that'd be me) was supposed to help develop the idea, rehearse with the child and then make sure there were enough supplies on hand so that the child could teach at least four other kids to do the project.

And it was due last week.

"Kyra," I asked her fearfully, "did you do this how-to presentation in front of your class?"

"Yes mommy," she answered cheerfully. 

"But... How did you do?"

"Good I guess."

"And did you bring supplies for four other kids like it says to do here?"

"Ummm." Here she thought for a bit. "Yes?"

I don't know much about Paper Snoflaks, but I'm guessing you need scissors and paper to make one, at a minimum. And, given the state of our craft drawer (currently a shoebox without a lid, full of broken crayons and markers without tops, plus possibly a screwdriver or two, and some duct tape), I think it highly unlikely she could have found 4 pairs of scissors and enough paper for everyone. I can't even find scrap paper to write down phone numbers when I need to.

But here's the thing. I'm afraid to ask the teacher if the presentation went okay. Because then I'd have to admit that I haven't looked in the homework folder, for, like, ever. And really, what kind of mother doesn't even know about her child's week-long research report?

Me, that's who.

I stood there, looking down at the scribbled report, with its crude drawing of a snowflake, and I contemplated what to say, what to do. Probably I needed to say something about teamwork, or Keeping Mommy Informed. Maybe now was a good time to talk about project planning, or organizational skills, or even the dismal state of the craft drawer. I looked, and I thought, and I sighed, and I finally said "that's a really nice snowflake, sweetie." I said a silent little prayer that I wouldn't run into the teacher at the next night's elementary concert. And I resolved to do a better job checking the homework folder. Next year. Maybe.

Lower your standards, people. Lower. Your. Standards.
 

Please. Write your own stuff.